How to Clean Waterlogged Leather

You can effectively restore a waterlogged leather item, like a coat, gloves, cushion or pair of boots.

The goal is to treat the inside of the leather as well as its surface to maintain the collagen infrastructure that gives leather its structure and resilience. Water softens collagen to a weak, gum-like texture. You can use the same methods that soldiers and horse people use to take care of their equipment. It is most important to allow the leather to dry naturally; artificial heat will shrink, dry and ruin the leather.

Hang the item, if it is a garment like a coat or leather chaps. Smooth it with your palms so that it hangs naturally.

Install shoe trees, if the item is a pair of boots or shoes.

Fill the item with dry towels, if it is a case or bag, and until its shape is natural.

Allow the leather to dry naturally and away from sunlight or any artificial heat. This may take days for a thick item.

Brush off any loose dirt, and remove the remainder with a damp cloth.

Clean the item with glycerin-based saddle soap (or unscented glycerin bar soap). Work up a lather with a white facecloth or towel, and soap the item from top to bottom.

Rinse the facecloths or towels, and change them often. Repeat soaping until the cloths come away clean.

Wipe off any suds with a fresh, moistened towel.

Allow the item to dry away from sunlight or artificial heat.

Treat rugged gear, like saddles and work boots, with mink oil or neatsfoot oil. Apply three or four light treatments, allowing the oil to absorb completely before applying another. This "feeds" the leather, penetrating and softening it below the surface as well as on the surface.

Treat more delicate leather goods, like fine shoes or jackets, with high-end conditioners from a maker like Lexol or Fiebing. These contain the oils that leather requires, but also lanolin, beeswax and polymers designed to keep the leather supple and seal it without leaving it with a tacky or oily feel.

Things You Will Need

  • Clean towels (white)
  • Shoe brush
  • Saddle soap (glycerin based)
  • Mink oil or neatsfoot oil
  • Commercial leather conditioner

Tip

  • For suede or nubuck, allow the item to dry as described above. See a cobbler, leather retailer or visit a tack shop for cleaners and conditioners specifically for suede and nubuck.

Warning

  • Too much oil softens leather by breaking down the collagen infrastructure, allowing it to stretch. Do not soak a leather item in oil, particularly an item like stirrups or work boots from which you require support.

About the Author

Dan Antony began his career in the sciences (biotech and materials science) before moving on to business and technology, including a stint as the international marketing manager of an ERP provider. His writing experience includes books on project management, engineering and construction, and the "Internet of Things."